After several months of mostly sea-based nomadism, I find myself a fully-fledged tropics-dweller. This is something which feels as if it happened by accident. Which, perhaps, is a good thing.
Land crabs scuttle around your room at night, occasionally dying inconsiderately in a corner and leaving a foul stench. Toads hop about nonchalantly in the hallway. Monkeys dance in the trees and the sky dances with lightning. Geckos wage wars for prime spots around lightbulbs. Fire ants bite your feet while you gaze up at the scarlet macaws; flashes of colour high in the almond trees. Fireflies drift and bob through heavy, thundering nights.
I stepped in a small pool of toad wee on the way to the bathroom the other night. The following day, a scorpion stung me while I was washing up; it was hiding under a plate. Hurt like buggery. I hear the words of my best friend’s legendary mother ringing in my ears…. “Ooh, Emma, is it worth it?”
Funny how quickly it all becomes normal.
How did an Ashton girl, raised on meat and potato pies, come to be living here? I am ashamed to admit it, but I’ve come to take it for granted. It’s only now I’ve found myself in one place, with a real job, without the distraction of travel, that my incongruity here is thrown into relief. In particular, there was one night a few months back, when I thought I’d treat myself to a veggie burger at the hostel down the road. Having forgotten my torch, I strayed off the path and found myself stuck, in pitch darkness, in the middle of a grassy hillock. “What the bloody hell am I doing ‘ere?” I heard myself shout into the darkness. I hope no-one else heard me. And even if they did, they probably didn’t understand the broad Lancashire twang I’d lapsed into during that stressful moment.*
You’ll be glad to know I escaped from the hillock unscathed. But it got me thinking.
We humans (particularly the ones from Lancashire) are such avid seekers of routine. We like to know what time we get up, and what time we go to bed. We like to have a nice place to keep our toothbrush. Even on the road, travellers huddle together in attentive groups, sharing precious local knowledge, which they gather in order to feel more at home. We are creatures of habit. Even in moments of transience we call ourselves back to a centre point: who we are, what we like, what we don’t like.
“It’s the way a man chooses to limit himself that determines his character. A man without habits, consistency, redundancy – and hence boredom – is not human. He’s insane.”
A friend in Bocas told me that after living with her husband and two daughters on their boat for almost six years, she was concerned about her daughters losing their ability to be in one place. I can definitely empathise with that, and I know several gypsy-like friends who can too. For those accustomed to travel, is staying in one place a skill to be developed? Is it wrong to feel itchy feet after being in one place for a while? Or is the key to be able to enjoy both sedentary and nomadic lifestyles without becoming too entrenched in any one way of life?
What do you think, gypsy friends?
Nomad or no, I think it most definitely is worth it. Being aware of what keeps your inner fires burning. Embracing the in-between places: that’s what keeps you alive, whether in the heart of the jungle or by a roaring fire on t’moors with a nice cup of tea.
I’m on the road again. After an amazing first term at Azuero School during which a bunch of crazy children undoubtedly taught me more than I taught them, I find myself in Pavones, Costa Rica, enjoying epic waves, overpriced papayas, and a renewed love affair with the tropics.
On the way we stayed at the brilliant Bambu Hostel in David, which has a pool, and a presumptuous possum.
in Pavones we have rented a lovely room at Patrick and Susan’s lovely hostel Clear River, right on the beach.
Here are some photos from the trip.
P.S. I deliberately didn’t mention where the quote was from so you’d read my next article out of curiosity.
*During a slightly hairy moment on a paddle board recently I found myself once again regressing to a broad Lancashire accent, stronger even than my real one, whilst trying to get in past some big waves: “bloody throw me t’paddle yer basterd, or I’ll bloody do yer one” I hollered to skipper over the din of the waves. Why do I regress into the accent of my youth during moments of stress?
This song was actually written by a cave woman, many millenia ago, and sent to me, through the ages, on a lunar wind.
She watches her family, and learns from them. She burns with the fire of discovery and hears echoes from her own future.
Her heart cries for glory and for things she doesn’t understand…just like mine does.
She has an acute awareness of her own impermanence, and wonders, as she sees the face of her children in the moonlight, what will become of her, and whether her suffering has a purpose.
I imagine this woman, staring up at an infinite sky, her mind filled with the same questions, the same desires, the same concerns and the same emotions as I have, right now, thousands of years later. I was filled with a sense of timelessness I will never forget.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, check out the video. It’s got some nice arty shots of seagulls. Featuring guest vocals from Tomer and Yahel Allouche and perhaps the most underestimated musical instrument ever: the recorder.
Photo of Venao by Rodrigo Suriani, at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodrigo_suriani/
My first two months in Venão have served as a hands-on introduction to the Montessori teaching method (I’m working here). During my studies I learnt about the philosophy and the techniques, some of which may have been absorbed into my past teaching, but this is my first time at a purely Montessori school.
Montessori philosophy encourages following the child; allowing him/her to explore at his/her own pace. True learning only occurs when a child approaches a concept with curiosity and a desire to know more. That curiosity is something which arises naturally in children hundreds of times a day. Montessori is about tapping into and working with that curiosity as it arises, as well as providing structure and stimuli which encourage it.
One of the things I love about Montessori is that it isn’t results-focused. Having come from a more ‘traditional’ teaching background with exam results as a constant focus, it now seems incredible to me that children of any age are expected to comply with a set of pre-defined standards. In encouraging compliance with a set ‘norm’, creativity and diversity suffer. A system such as this succeeds only in perpetuating the inherently flawed nature of the society it is supposed to serve.
It is profoundly satisfying not only to experience the joy of teaching without the pressure of ‘results’ hanging over yours’ and your students’ heads, but also to meet teachers who are passionate about providing alternative forms of education. Not that it doesn’t have its challenges; it is easy to feel lost at first without such rigid structure, but this feeling fades a little with each meaningful interaction.
Our day trip to Manolo Caracol’s farm in Pedási had a bit of everything that helps make Montessori so special. This is Manolo:
His organic farm provides all of the fresh produce for his restaurant in the city.
The children took a tour of the farm, learning about the crops, the seasons, and the effect of local sewage treatment problems on Pedási’s rivers and streams.
They pulled up some sweet potatoes…some found it more difficult than others
After our tour we were offered fresh sweet potato chips, melon and grape juice, all from the farm.
Older children helped to look after younger ones
And Manolo showed us how the chips were made
Then we planted seeds; chillies, butter lettuce, coriander and more. Watching the children take great care in examining and placing the seeds was a real joy.
Name plaques for our crops. In a few months we will be able to return and check on their progress.
After a blissful few weeks in England and Portugal, it’s time to sit down with a nice cuppa and reflect on the trip.
I ate pies in their hundreds. I shopped for life changing pants with my best friend, who is starting her own furniture upcycling business. I gazed in awe at my wonderful mum’s new artwork.
I made weird videos whilst waiting for delayed Ryanair flights.
In Portugal, I ate pastel de natas with proper coffee in great company. I drank one too many at O’Luain’s Bar and Sometime Eatery (first mentioned here) and participated in the much missed Sunday night music session. I was reminded of the stunning beauty of the Cascais coast, and of just how enormous a Portuguese toastie can be.
Back in England I was lucky enough to join in the singaround at the Cross Keys Folk Club. What a wonderful night. Secreted away in the tiny back room of this 200-year old pub (not a smartphone in sight), we shared folk songs from all over the world. This was my favourite (extract from lyrics below):
“Oh, roll up, roll up, come and see the fat girl, Forty stone o’ loveliness and evr’y bit’s her own.” Ee she were a big ‘un, Wi’t accent on the big, And all the fellas wi’ walking sticks kept giving her a dig.
All in all a very special trip. I returned to Panama full up with love. And pies.
Below are a few photos from my current location. Bloodshot is out of the water having a well-earned rest in Bocas del Toro
…and I am getting to know my new home: Playa Venao.
It feels great to be teaching again. I had forgotten how challenging and hectic and hilarious working with children is. This is our school and it’s growing. I feel priviliged to be a part of it all.
I’m saying this now. Just wait until the novelty of actually having to work wears off.
School on a quiet Sunday
Skipper gets roped into building a mini skate ramp
There’s an expression round my parts (geographical, not anatomical): umming and ahhing; which implies a certain level of indecision, which leads nowhere, and is counter-productive.
I’ve been doing a lot of it recently. What am I doing, career-wise? How am I going to get some money? Where do I want to be/go? What about my music? Is this a long-term thing, this travel…thing?
Much of this indecision seemed to centre around money. Or the lack thereof. Being under no illusions does not mean shedding years and years of social conditioning overnight. Despite my desire for a freer existence, I still have the nagging voices in my head, telling me to settle down, earn more money, do something productive. Write a book. Get famous. Go viral.
As the bank balance got lower, I felt more guilty about spending time on the blog, as it wasn’t earning me money. I don’t imagine I’m the first blogger to feel uncomfortable with the concept of ‘monetising’; while I love writing and can’t deny the appeal of receiving large wads of cash for the occasional philosophical swashbuckling piece, I am unwilling to commit to spending long hours at the whim of slow wi-fi and fickle social media, in order to publicise a blog which is essentially about getting away from all that.
HONESTY is another issue. I’ve come up against some serious ‘mental work’ the last few months, the essence of which is better summed up by The Squeaky Robot:
I will never claim to be on a spiritual journey; I will also never attempt to “find myself” via travel. Knowing oneself has less to do with one’s geographical coordinates and more to do with mental work that is honest and unabashed and often ugly. Traveling with the intention of leaving your problems behind is like running from a grenade that’s still attached to you.
It’s difficult deciding exactly how much to disclose to your readers. How do you draw the line between writing which might resonate with others, and writing that’s just downright depressing?
WHAT gradually started to emerge from all of the above was not a pretty little life plan, but a desire to become more comfortable with uncertainty. Times of uncertainty are electric with creativity and change. We are so accustomed to living within a framework that it feels strange when that framework is taken away.
Rather than losing sight of the essence of this blog in order to push it as something marketable/definable, I’m going to embrace its uncertainty as a reflection of my own, and write as honestly as I can, with emphasis on the process, not the outcome.
How d’you like them apples?
AND SO, on to the next phase. Bloodshot is having a rest in a boatyard in Almirante, which means bidding farewell to Bocas del Toro and relocating to Venao, where I will be a first grade teacher at El Sitio School. I am looking forward to having a real job, and also, learning how to ride a horse.
P.S.Click on this link for access to private member’s area including saucy naked pics – I might be nurturing an acceptance of uncertainty but I still need cash*
P.P.S. The title of this article was an autocorrect, which I liked, and might use as a future album title.
festive punchline title provided by brother; guess the joke
I’m on the road again, after a delightful stay in Panama and a gem of a final night at this place
The prodigal bum (aka Skipper) has returned from a recent job, just in time for some Christmas cheer, so I once again have a travelling companion.
Journeys are taking longer; the queues of Panamanians on their way home for Christmas grow thicker, not just with people, but with baggage, presents, babies, and the occasional dog in a crate.
As sweltering and tropical Panama is, the festive season seems to drift by mostly unnoticed; it is hard to summon the spirit for it when the sun, shining hard and constant through the trees, renders any attempt at Christmas bling (as we know it) unnoticeable. If it’s not cold, it’s just not Christmas.
That is, of course, until one enters a shopping mall.
The voices, the piped music complete with jingle bells and the rumble of the escalators all echo against my senses, instantly evoking last-minute rushes through busy Manchester streets in search of Body Shop gift packs for forgotten aunts.
Children paw at thick glass windows, barely able to contain their hope; women waft by in clouds of perfume and everything, everything is covered in sequins.
I am momentarily hypnotised.
And then there’s the supermarket! The “things we only buy at Christmas” displays reminiscent of our own; pre-mixed rum punch and stacks of turron evoking memories of my own family’s festive must-haves:
-Terry’s Chocolate Orange (several)
-Bottle of Bailey’s (largest available)
This made me giggle, especially the bit about walnuts.
Browsing the book of many faces gives me a pang, as I see my friends from around the world braving extortionate Christmas air fares and sleazyjet queues to be with their loved ones. It would be lovely to join my dad in a first round of drinks at 10am, and indulge in a nostalgic Game of Life with my brother as mum annihilates the After Eights.
But embrace a tropical Christmas I shall, made all the more pleasant by thoughts of future family reunions. In between bouts of work on the old whimsical and paradigm-shifting secret project (first mentioned here) I’ll be by the pool, getting lost in the sounds produced by this absolutely magical lady, should anyone need me.